Great Trio Elevates Lynn Shelton’s ‘Your Sister’s Sister’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” is a character-driven piece about hidden feelings and complex relationships. Like her work on “Humpday,” Shelton has a keen ear for the way people alter their behavior as their dynamics with other people continue to shift, often in a sexual direction. When a close friend suddenly looks like something more, when a long-term relationship seems to be falling apart, when a sibling may have betrayed you – Shelton’s gift as a filmmaker is how she can traverse these emotional minefields while still staying true to her characters. Like “Humpday,” I think “Your Sister’s Sister” kind of peaks in the middle and glides to a rather predictable ending but the three performances and the way Shelton has crafted these well-drawn characters makes it worth a look.

“Your Sister’s Sister” is almost entirely a three-person piece and Shelton perfectly chose her cast – indie actor of the summer Mark Duplass (also in this week’s spectacular “Safety Not Guaranteed”), the always-great Emily Blunt, and the criminally under-utilized and underrated Rosemarie DeWitt. Blunt and DeWitt play sisters and, as cheesy as this pitch sounds, Duplass plays the man caught between them. But this is not a standard love triangle film by any stretch of the imagination. Shelton’s very gifted at avoiding the clichés of a story that could have easily weighed it down and made it just another generic Mumblecore drama. She’s very careful to make sure the interactions of her characters feel 100% genuine. I wish she had a bit more of a stylish eye and wrote a stronger final act, but it’s the characters of “Your Sister’s Sister” that I’ll remember and that’s an invaluable gift.

Your Sister's Sister
Your Sister’s Sister
Photo credit: IFC Films

Jack (Duplass) is at an emotional turning point in his life a year after the death of his brother. He’s lost, adrift, but Duplass and Shelton don’t overplay his life quandary. He just seems to be at a point that most of us reach a few times in our life. He’s uncertain and generally unhappy. His good friend Iris (Blunt) recognizes this and practically orders him to go to her family’s cottage and just get away. He’ll ride his bike, read some books, watch the sunset – it will be a good reboot for Jack’s soul.

When he arrives at the cabin late at night, Jack is startled to see a beautiful woman making tea in her underwear. It’s Hannah (DeWitt), Iris’ gay sister, who has just broken up with her partner after seven years together. In easily the best scene in the film, Hannah and Jack share tequila shots and discuss their lives with increasing emotional honesty. DeWitt is spectacular here, making one wonder why on Earth she doesn’t get more roles. She’s honest, likable, and interesting without ever once feeling like she’s being artificial. I thought for sure that her Oscar-worthy work in “Rachel Getting Married” would get her more roles but it didn’t quite work out. This is easily her best work since that film.

As the tequila flows, Jack admits that if Hannah were straight he’d be trying to get into her pants. She decides to have some fun and goes along with it as the two hook up in a brief sexual encounter. Of course, Iris arrives the next day (hinting that she wanted to come and see Jack one-on-one from the very beginning) and soon reveals that she thinks she’s in love with Jack. Hannah & Jack decide not to admit their indiscretion but it’s not long before emotional baggage is being emptied all over the cottage and a huge secret on Hannah’s part is revealed.

Your Sister's Sister
Your Sister’s Sister
Photo credit: IFC Films

I’ll admit to being an easy sell for minimal character pieces like “Your Sister’s Sister.” Perhaps it’s because I see SO many films that are weighed down with unnecessary characters and tedious subplots that I admire a streamlined film like Shelton’s. When a filmmaker can craft an interesting drama with just three characters who feel this genuine and this believable, that’s an underrated skill that really appeals to me.

It helps that Shelton cast three great actors. I’ve made my love for DeWitt clear (and I think she gives the best performance in the film) but Blunt and Duplass are two excellent actors in their own right. Blunt is simply ALWAYS interesting. She has that very rare combination of remarkable beauty that also feels completely grounded at the same time. She’s an eventual Oscar winner. It’s just going to take the right part to make it happen. And it’s awesome to see Duplass continue to develop into a more engaging actor with every film.

“Your Sister’s Sister” ultimately glides to its ending more than I wished it would have. About halfway through, after Hannah’s major revelation, it’s kind of clear where it’s headed and how it will end. The actors and Shelton’s gift with dialogue keep it interesting but it’s not quite as emotionally engaging as its set-up hinted it could have been. The actors and the characters that Shelton has crafted for them make “Your Sister’s Sister” an enjoyable film for its target audience, even if it’s not quite a great one to break out of the subgenre.

“Your Sister’s Sister” stars Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and Rosemarie DeWitt. It was written and directed by Lynn Shelton. It opens on June 15, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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